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Sustainability isn’t just a buzzword, it is an important concept for business and personal behavior that will allow future generations to have access to the same resources and environment that we have.  While people may disagree with particular methods or regulations, most people can agree with the overarching goals and tenets behind sustainability.  ISO 14001 is an Environment Management System standard that creates a framework for organizations to establish environmental goals and practices to reduce impact in a way that makes a positive contribution to long term sustainability, and to the financial bottom line.

Using the ISO 14001 Environmental Management Standard

Like its more well-known companion standard the ISO 9001 QMS, ISO 14001 is not a complex or long document.  The general approach in the standard makes it suitable for use by small and large organizations operating in a wide range of industries. The ISO 14001 EMS Standard spends three brief sections relating normative references and definitions.

The fourth section of the standard lays out a basic framework of requirements:

  • General System Requirements
  • Policies and Planning
  • Implementation and Operation
  • Evaluation and Correction
  • Management Review

Those familiar with the ISO 9001 QMS may recognize these ISO 14001 EMS requirements as aligning with the Plan-Do-Check-Act approach to a continually improving process described in ISO 9001.  As well as using a process approach, like ISO 9001 the ISO 14001 standard places the responsibility of the Environmental Management System on the organization’s top management.  The similarities make the ISO 14001 EMS easy to incorporate into an existing Quality Management System.

A Focus on Environmental Regulation Compliance

One difference between the two standards is the ISO 14001 focus on regulatory compliance.  The ISO 14001 EMS is very different, however, from a regulation.  A regulation typically provides stringent rules to follow and requirements to meet.  The ISO 14001 EMS is a management approach to identifying and meeting all requirements – from both internal and external sources.  The continual improvement approach also means the EMS can start small and grow naturally to meet the organizations needs.  It doesn’t take a perfect design and large bureaucracy to get started.  It can even be implemented a process at a time to reduce complexity.

The Benefits of ISO 14001 Go Beyond Compliance

While being environmentally responsible through implementing an EMS is frequently seen as an expense that provides benefits only outside the business, many organizations that enact environmentally friendly practices are surprised by the benefits to the organization.  Some benefits may be intangible, like employees who have a more positive view of their organization.  Other benefits contribute directly to the bottom line, like reducing energy costs, disposal fees, and consumables use.  Also, compliance costs may be reduced when a system is created to more effectively manage and improve on environmental management.

The goal of implementing an ISO 14001 Environmental Management System is to simplify compliance and improve the effectiveness and efficiency of environmental management efforts – which should be a goal of every business.  After all, being a good citizen isn’t just for individuals.  Organizational leaders should ensure the business they represent is a good neighbor and a responsible citizen as well by contributing to long term sustainability.